July 6, 2001

Jockey Jon: The People's Court
Last week, we took a quick view of the halfway-home version of the Eclipse Awards, paying tribute to the outstanding equine performances of the first six months of 2001.

What about the humans?

Good question. If you had to hand out an Eclipse Award for outstanding rider at this point of the season, it would most certainly have to go to...Jon Court.

Jon Court?

Yep, that Jon Court -- the one and only Jon Kenton Court! (Not to be confused with bandleader and Synanon supporter Stan Kenton or the great and morose character actor Bud Cort.)

Nuts to that! But actually, here's a guy who wins just about every time he's within an eyelash of the leaders at the wire. A quick scan of his record in photo finishes in which he's involved shows he gets them home way more often than he doesn't, with favorites and longshots alike. Which means the guy just has that fighting spirit in the saddle. You will get a more-than-honest ride from him when the chips -- and whips -- are down.

Many riders, especially those carrying more ballyhooed reputations on their backs, are a break-even proposition in the very close ones, sort of like ballclubs in one-run games. But when you see a genuine close-finish talent like Jon Court around, you can be confident he'll be riding for his life inside the sixteenth pole.

OK, so you don't get to deal with Jon Court too often, but guys like him exist all over the place.

In Southern California, for example, you have three bona fide tight-finish specialists, and they all get mounts regularly, especially the ultra-live rides.

That trio is Tyler Baze, Chris McCarron and Alex Solis. Note well the latter two of that threesome, especially since both are represented by the same astute agent, Scotty McClellan.

From June 1-17 at Hollywood Park, Baze was 4-1 (four wins, one second) in the photos. McCarron went 3-0, while Solis was 6-1 (the one second-place finish he lost to -- you guessed it -- McCarron).

By comparison, big names elsewhere were .500 players, including Pat Day (4-4) and John R. Velazquez (5-4), while superstars like Jorge Chavez and Corey Nakatani were doing much worse (0-6 and 0-4, respectively).

So, what does it all mean? Obviously, a lot of the wagering strategies in Thoroughbred horse racing come from isolating the eventual winner, whether for use in straight-wagering, the exotics (horizontal, like the double, pick 3 and pick 4; or vertical, like the exacta and trifecta). In the case of the vertical exotics, steady performers in the photos -- guys such as Court and Solis and the others -- can make the handicapping a bit easier, since when they're on a live one, they usually get the job done, or have a better chance to finish in the top two, not to mention win outright.

Check it out on your favorite circuit. But the next time you're playing Kentucky, remember our boy J.K. Court. He'll outride his odds.

Spotting 'em
During the holiday jackpot pick 6 at Hollywood Park this past Wednesday, the talk among one handicapping group eventually came round to the notion of the easy winner.

"Man, you gotta love those winners that are free and clear at the wire, the kind Trevor would say could go around again or are totally annihilating the field."

"No duh, but wouldn't you like to have gotten five out of five and have punched the 'all' button in the finale?"

Laughs all around, and while that's certainly happened at some time in the whole of handicapping history, it probably never would be the case among these handicappers shooting the breeze while putting together their typically modest ticket.

Which brought them back to the notion of the easy winner, the horse whose so superior to the competition -- and, of course, shows it on the track -- that the jockey gears down, saving something for next time.

Unfortunately, these monsters are pretty much obvious to the rest of the fans in the stands. A quick scan of recent easy winners (margin of victory at least five lengths; no wet tracks or non-firm courses included) suggests the rompers will be within the top four wagering choices.

More helpful is that, at this time of year, plenty of maiden two-year-olds (both special weight and claiming) tend to win in a walk, given the rawness of most of their rivals and the primacy of keen early speed in these abbreviated heats.

Otherwise, the no-sweat win is something of a rare commodity, more so the cheaper the field, where no beast is willing to go all out and most of the runners are, by this stage of their careers, evenly matched.

Winding Down
Hard to believe that Hollywood Park's closing weekend is but seven days away, and only eight programs remain during the current Inglewood stand.

Hollywood Park often gets beaten like the redheaded stepchild of the family of the three Southern California tracks, what with Santa Anita cranking out Triple Crown hopefuls and Del Mar being, well, Del Mar. Hollywood is the in-betweener, and with no real built-in draws and situated in a gritty part of town, it's prone to more than its fair share of detractors.

That said, it's what goes on in Southern California while people count the days until Solana Beach, and even though the thoughts of horsemen and players alike are drifting a hundred miles south, there still is some good money to be made before the annual trek to the beach.

This includes a three-stake Saturday at Hollywood, the first of which is the six-furlong Landaluce Stakes for two-year-old fillies.

As mentioned earlier, keen early speed is the ultimate weapon in these short sprints for the juveniles this time of year, and there is plenty of quality front speed in this one.

However, there also is a striking balance of horses who know how to pass other horses, and, final-figure-wise, some of them are talented enough to take this.

Georgia's Storm, 9-5 and favored on the morning line, is one of the frontrunners, and she's shown no ability to go by another horse. Of course, she hasn't shown an ability to completely fold, either, and, so far, wherever she's been positioned early, that's where she's finished. But this race will almost certainly force her to modify those tactics, and at the short price, that's hard to swallow.

Ile de France is one of the closers, 10-1 on the morning line, and was interfered with in her debut, at 7-2, and was elevated to the win. She'll need to get somewhat better to take this, but both her trainer and sire indicate that a second-out improvement won't be difficult.

Roaring Blaze also will be burning at the end, though her last start, her maidenbreaker, gave her a ridiculously fast pace to run down. That might not be the case in here.

And if you're looking for a viable on-pace alternative, it has to be Who Loves Aleyna, 3-1 on the morning line.

By trying to beat the morning-line fave Georgia Storm, the keys become Ile de France and Who Loves Aleyna.

The fifth race on the card is the Grade II Bel Air Handicap for three-year-olds and upward at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track, and the potential for a free and clear lead exists.

It exists through 8-1 Lesters Boy, a textbook example of a need-to-lead frontrunner who cannot be converted. Coming back to the dirt after two heartbreakingly close turf tries, he'll be much more at home carving out the splits on the main track. And when that happens, he runs his race: there's a sizeable spread from his best numbers (earned alone on the lead) and his worst (when he's challenged, they more closely resemble $10,000 claimer efforts).

With morning-line choices Out of Mind (year-plus layoff) and Freedom Crest (jinxed trainer off the bench) having deficiencies to overcome, let's see if Lesters Boy can scamper gate-to-wire in what is an uninspiring six-horse lineup.

Finally, there's the Grade III Royal Heroine for fillies and mares three years old and up at a mile on the turf course. In this one, the potential also exists for a lonely leader.

That would be Southern House, gate-to-wire upsetter last time at 30-1. This time, she might have to work a little harder for her lead. But she too is a perfect illustration of the power of uncontested speed on the lead.

After Southern House, the rest of the field is pretty much indistinguishable. For a closer at a mild price, it's Janet.

July Contest Here, Rioting in Streets to Follow
Maybe not, but if you've ever been curious about getting involved in an edition of Cynthia Publishing Company's free Big-Prize Handicapping Contest, this is your month -- and no, there will be no violence.

July is your month because we've opened things up. You dictate how much of your bankroll you want to bet, as long as you bet it all by the end of the month. So you can wait till the end of July, blow your whole wad on a single bet and that's cool. Hey, you might even win!

There's also a exotic-betting adjunct to the main contest, and if you're an anarchist, more power to you.

But perhaps the best reason to get involved this time is that the top 16 finishers will qualify for the all-out phantasmagorical August edition of the contest, known thus far as the Iron Survivor Ultimate Handicapping Challenge.

If that's not enough, hey, there's always the cash-money giveaway.

Get involved now. Click on the link immediately below now or anytime before July 29. Good luck.

Another Amazing Development
At the Cynthia Publishing Company Web site, there are more things to check out, including:

See you next time. As always, thanks for your continued readership.

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